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‘Patriots and Professors’: A Century of Roman Studies, 1910–2010

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 June 2010

Christopher Stray
Department of History and Classics, Swansea University / Institute of Classical Studies, University of London,


This essay offers a survey of the history of the Roman Society during the 100 years since its foundation in 1910. It discusses relations with other classical bodies, especially the Hellenic Society and the Classical Association; the Society's fragile finances until the 1950s; and the key role played over several decades by its Secretary, Margerie Taylor. Separate sections deal with the Society's library; its journals, the Journal of Roman Studies (1911) and Britannia (1970); membership and finance; and relations with schools, amateur archaeologists and the University of London, whose Institute of Classical Studies has housed the Society's office and library since 1958.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2010. Published by The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

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1 Hallam published several papers in JRS on Italian sites, including one on Horace's villa (JRS 4 (1914), 121–38Google Scholar).

2 That is, top of the first class in the Classical Tripos.

3 The combination was to make him a central mediating figure in academic debates, as in the conflicts between the supporters of science and the humanities during the Great War (Stray, C. A., Classics Transformed (1998), 264–5Google Scholar). Kenyon was president of the British Academy 1917–21 and of the Hellenic Society 1919–24; he also served as a vice-president of the Roman Society.

4 The Society of Antiquaries appears to have played no role in the early years of the Roman Society, though several of the leading figures in the new society were among its members. In the 1900s it was a prestigious but amateur body with a high entrance fee and, unlike the classical societies, no female members (women were explicitly banned in 1901, and only admitted after sex discrimination legislation was passed in 1919). The standard history of the Antiquaries (Evans, J., A History of the Society of Antiquaries (1956)Google Scholar) has only a passing mention of the Roman Society (p. 377); like the British School at Rome it ‘drew off all but a few papers in the classical Italian field from the Antiquaries’. Similar remarks are made about the Hellenic Society and the British School at Athens (pp. 339, 377), and about other specialist bodies who were taking over areas within the Antiquaries’ very wide range (p. 407).

5 In his address to the opening meeting of the Hellenic Society in 1879, Newton declared that ‘… by Hellenic Studies we do not mean merely the study of Greek texts, grammars and lexicons … new sources of Hellenic Study are opening up every day. The monuments of the Greeks, their architecture, sculpture and other material remains, deserve our study not less than the texts of the classics’. Newton, C. T., ‘Hellenic studies. An introductory address’, JHS 1 (1880), 16CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 1.

6 Hellenic Society Council minutes, 21 June 1908. In December 1909 the Hellenic Society deputies to a meeting with the Classical Association affirmed that their Council, believing it was easier to attract subscribers to a new body, ‘had refused to raise its subscription … for the promotion of Roman Studies’. Hellenic Society Council minutes, 14 December 1909.

7 The terminology was not uncommon, and perhaps indicated the continuing strength of the literary (‘Latin’) tradition. It was also found in the Companion to Latin Studies published by Cambridge University Press in 1910. The circular issued by the Hellenic Society in January 1910 inviting support for a new society referred to ‘Roman or Latin Studies’.

8 ‘Humanities’ was a term not current at that time and the British Academy's original Charter of Incorporation refers to its role as ‘the Promotion of Historical, Philosophical and Philological Studies’. It now refers to itself as a national academy for the support of the humanities and social sciences.

9 The foundation of the Academy had been provoked by a meeting of academies in the 1890s, which emphasized that Britain had a national scientific body, the Royal Society, but no equivalent body for the humanities: see Drayton, R., ‘The strange late birth of the British Academy’, in Daunton, M. (ed.), The Organization of Knowledge in Victorian Britain (2005), 389400Google Scholar. The inclusion and exclusion of humanities in national academies varied between countries, depending on the timing of foundation and conceptions of knowledge. In Germany, ‘Wissenschaft’ was inclusive; in Britain, ‘science’ was exclusive.

10 The list of names (together with those of the twenty-three refusers) survives in the Roman Society archive.

11 See Stray, C. A. (ed.), The Classical Association: the First Century, 1903–2003, Greece and Rome suppl. vol. (2003)Google Scholar, 111–12.

12 Classical Association Classical Journals Board, minutes of meeting of 12 February 1910.

13 ‘Memorandum of a conference held December 3rd’, Hellenic Society Council minutes, 14 December 1909. An alternative scheme, to publish Roman material in a section of CQ, or in one whole issue per year, had also been discussed.

14 This last body was for obvious reasons founded as the Classical Association of England and Wales. For its history, see Stray, op. cit. (n. 11); the volume includes Ronald Knox's centenary article on its Scottish elder sister, ‘The Classical Association of Scotland: the first hundred years’ (253–72).

15 See in general, Marchand, S., Down from Olympus: Archaeology and Philhellenism in Germany 1750–1970 (2003)Google Scholar, ch. 1. The twentieth century saw a rather different phenomenon: the Deutsche Altphilologenverband was founded in Berlin by Werner Jaeger and others in 1925 as part of his Third Humanism project, in which Plato was co-opted into an authoritarian alternative to the failings of the democratic Weimar Republic. Wolin, R., The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism (2004)Google Scholar, 107–10; Landfester, M., ‘Die Naumburger Tagung, “Das Problem des Klassischen und die Antike” (1930). Der Klassikbegriff Werner Jaegers: seine Voraussetzung und seine Wirkung’, in Flashar, H. (ed.), Altertumswissenschaft in den 20er Jahren: Neue Fragen und Impulse (1995), 1140Google Scholar.

16 The pattern is, however, reversed in the case of verse anthologies, where Latin (Garrod, 1912) is much earlier than Greek (Murray et al., 1930). Bailey's Mind of Rome (1926), an anthology of translated Latin passages, had no Greek counterpart.

17 The speeches were reported in CR 24 (June 1910), 105–16.

18 On Oxford and Empire, see Symonds, R., Oxford and Empire: The Last Lost Cause? (1986; repr. 1991)Google Scholar. Aspects of the reception of Rome in Britain are dealt with by Hingley, R.Roman Officers and English Gentlemen: The Imperial Origins of British Archaeology (2000)Google Scholar; Freeman, P., The Best Training-ground for Archaeologists: Francis Haverfield and the Invention of Romano-British Archaeology (2007)Google Scholar.

19 M. Hicks Beach to Jebb, 16 August 1901: to be published in Stray, C. A., Sophocles’ Jebb: A Life in Letters, BICS suppl. vol. (2010).Google Scholar

20 On his death in 1905, Jebb was succeeded as MP for Cambridge University by another Hellenist, S. H. Butcher.

21 For the Oxford background, including the contrast with the relatively weak development of Greek history and archaeology, see Murray, O., ‘Ancient history, 1872–1914’, in Brock, M. G. and Curthoys, M. C. (eds), History of the University of Oxford VI: Nineteenth-century Oxford pt I (1997), 520–42Google Scholar. Murray's account emphasizes both the strength and longevity of Oxford Ancient History, and the weaknesses to which this led.

22 I learned about the meetings from John Crook and Frank Walbank, who attended some of them. For some detail, see Murray, O., ‘Arnaldo Momigliano in England’, in The Presence of the Historian: Essays in Memory of Arnaldo Momigliano, History and Theory 30.4, Beiheft 30 (1991), 4964Google Scholar. Shop was forbidden, a nearby zoo visited, and women (until the end of the 1960s) excluded.

23 The resulting page layout is clean and crisp, though inevitably it looked cramped at first when compared with the spacious grandeur of its predecessor, and some readers have had difficulty with the small print.

24 Vol. 93 (2003) was swelled to over 430 pages by two long survey articles.

25 This ended in 1969. As so often with part-publications, library bindings have stripped out evidence; but early volumes contain a sequence (articles, reviews, articles, reviews) which reveals the original two-part format.

26 Council minutes, 11 January 1955.

27 Memo, Classical Association Classical Journals Board minute book, undated but tipped in with the minutes of the meeting of 4 December 1910.

28 Strong's, E.Roman Sculpture from Augustus to Constantine (1907)Google Scholar was a pioneering work which asserted the claims of Roman art to be more than just a poor relation of its Greek predecessors. Eugenie Sellers (as she had been before her marriage) had begun as a student of Greek art but changed course in the 1890s. See Beard, M., The Invention of Jane Harrison (2000)Google Scholar; Dyson, S. L., Eugenie Sellers Strong: Portrait of an Archaeologist (2004)Google Scholar.

29 See Haverfield's obituary notice, JRS 5 (1915), 147–8Google Scholar.

30 The history of the Editorial Committee is discussed in the Council minutes for 10 January 1952 (p. 105).

31 For example, the printing of part 1 of Vol. 9 (1919) was completed on 14 October 1921.

32 Taylor, M. V., ‘The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 1910–1960’, JRS 50 (1960), 129–34Google Scholar, at 130.

33 John Crook, a pupil of Last who moved to Cambridge, where he succeeded Moses Finley in the chair of Ancient History, described the Society as ‘an Oxford stitch-up with a bit of London’. (This and other such references are from interviews conducted by the author.)

34 Having given Vol. 1 of CAH a negative review in 1924, he contributed major chapters to Vol. 7 (early Rome) and Vol. 9 (the Republic).

35 The differences of style between Last's constitutionalism and Syme's political realism appear to have been overlaid by personal differences in the late 1940s, when both men were at Brasenose, as Principal and Camden Professor respectively. See Bowersock, G. W., ‘Ronald Syme, 1903–1989’, PBA 84 (1994), 538–63Google Scholar; Crook, J. M., Brasenose: The Biography of an Oxford College (2008)Google Scholar, 392–3, quoting Bowersock and P. A. Brunt.

36 Finley was by then at Cambridge; Hopkins was taught by him and later occupied the chair of Ancient History he had held.

37 The ‘JRS Archive’ in the Sackler Library, Oxford, consists of the material used for these reports, from 1924 into the 1990s.

38 John Crook's view was that Last and Miss Taylor both wanted history to predominate and Roman Britain to be marginalized.

39 Baynes, N. H., ‘Some aspects of Byzantine civilisation’, JRS 20 (1930) 113Google Scholar, at 13. The Society's Memorandum and Articles of Association specified c. a.d. 700 as the historical limit of its activities.

40 According to William Calder, ‘Sir R. Syme informed me on 24 June 1975 of the origin of the review. His source was “A. D. Nock in his cups”. Nock urged Hugh Last to assign and publish the review although JRS normally avoided such purely philological matters …’ Calder, W. M. III, ‘The German influence on American Classics 191–33’, in Flashar, H. (ed.), Altertumswissenschaft in den 20er Jahren: Neuer Fragen und Impulse (1995), 403–22Google Scholar, at 411 n. 33.

41 Murray, O., ‘Arnaldo Momigliano, 1908–1987’, JRS 77 (1987)Google Scholar, xi. Oswyn Murray remembers that Momigliano's words were ‘burned into my soul’. Momigliano himself, however, was over-ruled by Miss Taylor in 1959, when he submitted an article on the ‘Origo gentis Romanae’. It carried a dedication, ‘A Eduard Fraenkel, maestro e amico’, but Miss Taylor vetoed this, and it appeared in JRS 49 (1959) dedicated ‘To Eduard Fraenkel’. As Momigliano commented in a letter to Fraenkel, sending him the original version, ‘None of this continental nonsense’ (Momigliano to Fraenkel, 19 January 1959: Fraenkel papers, Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The enclosed paper is now in the Fraenkel offprint deposit in the Sackler Library: my thanks to Graham Piddock for confirming this.)

42 Anderson, R. D., Parsons, P. J. and Nisbet, R. G. M., ‘Elegiacs by Gallus from Qasr Ibrim’, JRS 69 (1979), 125–55Google Scholar.

43 Gonzalez, J. and Crawford, M. H., ‘The Lex Irnitana: a new copy of the Flavian municipal law’, JRS 76 (1986), 147243Google Scholar; cf. Rodger, A., ‘Postponed business at Irni’, JRS 86 (1996), 6173Google Scholar.

44 St Joseph's aerial surveys began in 1945; his reports began with Air reconnaissance of North Britain’, JRS 41 (1951) 5265Google Scholar, which announced the discovery of twenty-five forts and sixty camps. Roman Britain from the Air, written with Sheppard Frere, appeared in 1983.

45 The series began with Reynolds, J. M., ‘Inscriptions and Roman studies 1910–1960’, JRS 50 (1960), 204–9Google Scholar.

46 Promptness was not always highly valued by scholars. In his ‘Adolescens puer (Virgil, Eclogues IV, 28–30)’, in Jocelyn, H. D. (ed.), Tria Lustra (1993), 265–7Google Scholar, Robin Nisbet wrote: ‘In the Liverpool Classical Monthly Dr John Pinsent has enabled scholars to air their theories before others could think of them or they themselves repent of them.’

47 But in the same year, an offer from the Royal Anthropological Institute to exchange its journal Man for JRS was refused: Council minutes, 30 January 1912.

48 JRS 4 (1914), 238. Almost all reviews were signed; short unsigned reviews, like this one, probably came from an editorial pen.

49 Council minutes, 6 November 1920.

50 Walbank saw his ignorance as the result of being in Liverpool, away from the academic power centres of Oxford and Cambridge.

51 Council minutes, 5 March 1912.

52 When Joyce Reynolds was first offered a review, in 1950, Miss Taylor stressed what an honour and advantage this was for a young scholar; in such circumstances, one did not dare mention payment.

53 Council minutes, 21 June 1955, 10 January 1956, 6 January 1959.

54 It has at times been suggested that the exigencies of finding reviewers have encouraged review editors to commission within their own institution. Thus a memorial of protest sent to the Editorial Committee in 1987 claimed that Oxford reviewers were unfairly over-represented. An investigation revealed that the university supplied 17 per cent of the established classicists in the UK and 18 per cent of JRS reviewers.

55 Taylor, op. cit. (n. 32), 130.

56 The chart is reproduced in Stray, C. A., Promoting and Defending: Reflections on the History of the Hellenic Society (1879) and the Classical Association (1903) (2003)Google Scholar, 13.

57 It also demonstrates the centrality of Oxford in the British classical world of the time: Myres wrote from New College, where he was Wykeham Professor of Ancient History, Last from St John's College, where he had taught ancient history since 1919 (he moved to Brasenose as Camden Professor of Ancient History in 1936).

58 Here too the contact was between two distinguished Oxford figures: Eric Dodds, Regius Professor of Greek 1936–60, President of Hellenic Society 1948–51, and Ronald Syme, Camden Professor 1949–70, President of Roman Society 1948–52. The Joint Standing Committee had been proposed earlier, in 1936, but at that point nothing had come of the suggestion.

59 In 1964, Frank Walbank's term was extended in the interests of continuity after Miss Taylor's death in December 1963.

60 Webster was then Professor of Greek at University College, and a colleague of H. H. Bellot, then Principal of the University.

61 The Institute of Archaeology had been founded by Mortimer Wheeler in 1937; it became part of University College London in 1986.

62 The coffee served in the Common Room was (thanks to Mr Mason of Fortnum and Mason) notably good, as were the occasional cakes for seminar teas from the same source.

63 In 1946 it had been approached by E. V. Rieu on behalf of Penguin Books for advice on a King Penguin series on Roman art, and had set up a sub-committee to collate suggestions.

64 The exhibition was widely reviewed; a largely favourable report in Country Life for 5 July 1961 has several photographs of exhibits.

65 Henig, M., The Art of Roman Britain (1995)Google Scholar, 188.

66 Oxford women could not gain degrees till 1920, but like hundreds of others Miss Taylor went to Dublin for a TCD ad eundem BA and MA, which she gained on 19 April 1907. See S. M. Parkes, ‘Steamboat ladies’, ODNB online,

67 For the history of the Bequest, see Todd, M., ‘The Haverfield Bequest, 1921–2000, and the study of Roman Britain’, Britannia 34 (2003), 3540CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

68 In his autobiographical memoir Hypomnemata (1992), 190, Frank Walbank wrote of ‘the brilliant and confident initiative of Miss M. V. Taylor, the formidable editor of the Journal of Roman Studies … It was a tremendous display of talent and all who were there felt amazingly encouraged and excited at such a gesture. It looked as if every British scholar who was not prevented by war work had taken part’. Stevens, P. T., in his The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies 1879–1979: A Historical Sketch (1979)Google Scholar, wrote (p. 23) that ‘In 1942 … the Society, in conjunction with the Roman Society and the Classical Association, boldly decided to hold a joint meeting in Oxford’. The surviving Triennial file begun by Miss Taylor (kindly shown to me by Elaine Matthews) makes it clear that the initiative was hers, and dated back to 1941.

69 On her resignation, Miss Taylor was given the post of Honorary Secretary, an office new to the Roman Society, though the Hellenic Society had had it since its foundation. The post, created for her, has since become a fixture, providing in effect an academic advisory post complementing that of Executive Secretary; though the current and previous holders of the latter post both have academic backgrounds.

70 In his old age Beazley was totally deaf.

71 There are letters to O. G. S. Crawford in the Bodleian Library, and other papers in the Sackler Library.

72 cf. Ian Richmond's obituary notice in the Oxford Magazine, 13 February 1964, p. 18: ‘relations with the sister Hellenic Society provided a field, even a battlefield, for the second quality’ [‘unflagging insistence’].

73 Mary Bennett to Helen Cockle, 21 March 1999. ‘Last’ refers to Weinstock's bequest of 1974, in honour of Hugh Last, which specifically excluded support for excavation. Between 1920 and 1976, only one Treasurer lacked a knighthood.

74 This was All Creatures Great and Small, which recounted the experiences of a (fictional) rural veterinary surgeon. The car's TV role was reported to Patricia Gilbert in April 1978 by J. N. L. Myres, who had himself once been driven from Colchester to Oxford by Miss Taylor.

75 R. E. M. Wheeler, review of JRS 50, Antiquity 35 (1961), 157–9, at 157. Frank Walbank remembered that ‘Miss Taylor expected contributors to JRS to join the Society’: a glimpse, perhaps, of the iron hand in the chiffon glove.

76 cf. the obituary by I. A. R[ichmond] in JRS 54 (1964), 1. The ‘Frontispiece’ referred to is reproduced above (Fig. 7).

77 The minute book was recovered a week later.

78 Sheppard Frere (in interview) remembered that rather than having ‘kept the lid on Roman Britain’, Miss Taylor ‘had her finger on [its] pulse’: she asked for excavation reports and rewrote them if they were not up to her own standards.

79 Carbon copy dated 17 November 1966; unsigned, but almost certainly by Momigliano (Honorary Secretary correspondence file). Graham Webster (1913–2001) was an engineer and self-taught archaeologist who became curator of the Chester Museum and later worked in the Extra-Mural Department at the University of Birmingham (1954–80); he was a leading expert on the Roman army (The Roman Army (1969)). In the light of these remarks, it is of interest that an article by Webster led off the inaugural issue of Britannia — the result of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, perhaps.

80 Momigliano's own work on early Rome in the 1960s involved use of a combination of literary, historical, and archaeological evidence.

81 Frere's ground-breaking book Britannia: A History of Roman Britain had been published in 1967.

82 JRA has to date also published seventy supplements, eleven of them deriving from the biennial conferences. For a benevolently critical comparative discussion of JRS and JRA, see W. V. Harris's review article in TLS, 10 November 2000, p. 34.

83 In 1958 a request from University Microfilms to film back issues of JRS had been refused.

84 An alternative scheme offering CD-Rom versions was not popular and was closed down.

85 Full members of the Society will in future receive both hard copies and access to online versions of the journals.

86 Council minutes, 30 May 1921.

87 This strategy was advised by Peter Brunt, who like Leach filled both academic and bursarial positions.

88 In 1924 it was agreed to see how the Hellenic Society scheme went (Council minutes, 29 January 1924); four years later, to set up a similar scheme (Council minutes, 25 October 1928). The draft rules for the scheme used the male gender, as was conventional in legal documents, but were corrected in MS, presumably by Miss Taylor. Gender-neutrality was introduced in the version of 1991.

89 Barron, J. P., ‘The vision thing: the founding of an institute’, BICS 43 (1999), 2739Google Scholar, at 37. The move had taken place in 1997.

90 Some of the printed publicity for the 1942 Triennial was headed, ‘Union of Hellenic and Roman Societies’. An actual union (i.e. fusion) had been discussed with the Society after World War I, when its finances were at their lowest ebb; the possibility was also entertained during the negotiations of 2005–8. The theme, it appears, is destined to emerge in times of trouble, only to disappear when they come to an end.

91 The concern for outreach goes back a long way: in March 1915, Council had considered, but finally rejected, holding public meetings on Saturdays, to make them more accessible to ‘country members’.

92 A report was printed, though not published: A Report of a Joint Meeting of the Hellenic and Roman Societies, held in Oxford … 29th August … 5th September, 1942 (1943). The report, largely written by M. P. Charlesworth, is full of detail and humour, and deserves to be better known. (Copies in Sackler Library, Oxford, and in the Joint Library at the Institute of Classical Studies.)

93 An informal exchange of conference panels between the Classical Association and the American Philological Association was formalized in an agreement signed in 2009.

94 As with other societies, lecturing panels were for long dominated by men; but in the last twenty years, efforts have been made to work towards a gender balance among speakers.

95 JRS had used computer typesetting since Vol. 75 (1985).

96 In 2009, Colin Annis was made an Honorary Vice-president of the Society to mark his thirty years of service to the library.

97 Excavation was excluded completely by the terms of Stefan Weinstock's bequest, on which the Last Fund (1976) was based; the Atkinson bequest (1981) excluded excavation unless special reasons operated. Special reasons have often been identified in making grants.

98 On the long-term commitment of individuals to the Societies, cf. Stray, op. cit. (n. 56).

99 See Appendix. Miss Taylor planned to install Jocelyn Toynbee as President in 1964, but as Mary Bennett recalled, a trial session of Council made it clear that she was too deaf to function effectively in the post. The prominence of women in early volumes of JRS has already been mentioned.

100 The contrast with the Hellenic Society is striking, given the traditional stereotyping of Greece (female) vs Rome (male). On the gendering of Greece and Rome, see Stray, op. cit. (n. 3), 7–10. The Hellenic Society's first female president was Dorothy Tarrant (1953–6).

101 As Mary Bennett recalled, ‘… the substantive post of secretary was soon filled by a woman of great competence and exceptional sweetness of character’. Bennett, M. L. S., An Autobiography (2006)Google Scholar, 85.

102 Quoted in Stevens, op. cit. (n. 68), 21.

103 Woolf, G., ‘The present state and future scope of Roman archaeology: a comment’, AJA 108 (2004), 417–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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